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The best views are from the summit of a mountain or from the edge of an ocean.

Sweet Lisbon

There’s more than pasteis de nata for a sweet snack or dessert in Lisbon. There are confeiterias everywhere with glass display cases brimming with sweetness.There’s a really good pattiserie at the Time Out Market.

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Eating in Lisbon

Unlike Spain where our familiarity with Spanish cuisine guided us in discovering what to eat, Portugal was an adventure as other than bacalhau and pasteis de nata, we knew nothing about the cuisine. Our first taste of Portugal was at Confeteria de Nacional for the iconic pasteis de nata. It was all that it was reported to be — not too sweet and with a flaky crust.

However, nothing prepared us for the pasteis de nata at Manteigra. Just before leaving the Time Out Market, we grabbed a pasteis each. It was heavenly. It was hot and the crust was both flaky and crispy. The custard was sweeter than Nacional’s but it was soooo oozingly good.

The best pasteis de nata, though, comes from Pasteis de Belem. The lines trying to get a table and the lines at the take home counter speak for itself. The crust is thin and crisp while the custard had just the right balance of milky sweetness and the taste of eggs.

Speaking of Time Out Market, this is a good place to get a sampling of Portugues food, both in its traditional and modern forms as created by some of Lisbon’s chefs. The roast suckling pig at Henrique Sa Pessoa was the best pork I’ve ever head. The slab of meat was so tender and the skin was so crisp. It more than made up for our disappointment with the cochinillo in Seville. It definitely gave a bang for the buck at 15 €.

It was perfect with couscous with ricotta cheese.

Buffet Livre de Leao, just a few steps from our hotel at Rue 1 Disyembre, was our go to place whenever we wanted to eat without thinking much of where to go and what to order. It only cost 8.99€ for an all-you-can-eat of salads, appetizers, rice, and grilled meats and fish. My favorite was the grilled Portuguese sausages.

Portugal is famous for its salted cod fish called bacalhau and is said there are a thousand ways of cooking it. At Peixes Lisboa we were amused when we saw bacalhau espiritual on the menu. It sounded so enigmatic. It turned out to be flaked fish with potatoes in a creamy casserole. At a small restaurant at Alfama, they had bacalhau paradiso which was similar but had none of the cream. We enjoyed this more as we could really taste the fish. Being so close to the sea, Portugal would be ground zero for seafood lovers. Also at Peixes Lisboa, we had seafood rice which was a hearty dish of rice cooked in seafood broth. It’s like the Portuguese version of paella but more wet. It’s really good.

Beside our hotel was a branch of Pingo Doce which was a grocery with a bakery and hot meals section. I’d always drop by just to see what’s on offer. The meal for the day at 3.99€ is the most affordable and filling meal you can ever have. You get to choose any of the 3 viands, pastas, or rice. The servings are really hefty. They also have roast chicken and roast pork. I tried the latter and a pre-chopped piece was just .86€. The meat was tender and the skin crackling. Really good value. No wonder, there’s always a crowd. Pingo Doce is also a good place to buy food stuff you want to give away back. home such as pate and sardines. Many locals shop here so there’s always a long line at the check-out around 7-9pm.

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Picturesque Sintra

Only 40 minutes by train from the Rossio station, Sintra is magical. It’s as if you’re transported in some fairy tale kingdom of colorful palaces, enchanting gardens, mysterious forests. How can something so surrealy beautiful be just a skip and a hop away from the city?

We took the 9am train to Sintra along with a few hundred others. Fortunately, we were at the station by 8am thinking there would be an 8:30 trip. By the time the train rolled in at platform 3, there was a sizable crowd. We quickly got ourselves seats as the train was filling up fast resulting in a few people left standing.At the Sintra station, we paid a tuktuk 5€ each to the trip to Peña Palace. This UNESCO Heritage Site is in the highest point of Sintra so we thought it best to make it our first stop.It took about 10 minutes before we were able to take the shuttle that brought us to the palace. Many people opted to do the hike up.The palace is massive and walking along its exteriors os fun as there are awesome views. Rather than waiting for the shuttle, we opted to just walk down as it would be much faster. At the exit, a guy with an id hanging from his neck offered to drive us for the same price as a tuktuk. We asked to be brought to Quinta Regaleira. More of gardens than palace, the highlight was the Inquisition Well and the tunnels.We had so much fun taking photographs at the bottom of the well.The tunnels were fun too.

One of the tunnels led to a small area by the side of a road somewhere. So I guess you can continue your walk from there. We decided to go back up the well as Tita Cel was waiting for us on top.

From the well, we re-traced our steps down to some picture perfect towers.

Behind the towers was a path that led to the palace just a few meters down. Exiting Regaileria, we followed the sidewalk all the way down to the center stopping by Xentro for a buffet (10.90€).

It was just a few meters down to the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.This was a fun palace to explore as there were lots of interesting turns and passages that brought us to different rooms. The palace has magnificent ceilings, but this is the most amazing.It was almost 5pm by the time we left the palace. Outside, there was this group of students performing some Portuguese songs.We took a tuktuk to the train station in time to take the 4:50 trip back to Lisbon.

TIPS:

Be early. So you can see more sights. We took the 9am train and arrived at exactly 9:40 and stayed until about 4:30pm. We only managed 3 sights. The palaces are all gorgeous and you cannot simply rush just to get to more sights.

Stay a night or come back. We would definitely return as there is still so much more to see. I would probably prefer to just do day trips as it’s just 40 minutes away.

Use your Lisboa Card. We had a 48 hour card which meant free train rides and discounts on all the sights.

Choose your transpo wisely. There’s the circuit bus which is really cheap though you would need to wait for it. There are taxis and tuktuks too.

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Museo Nacional De Musica Lisboa

This wonderful museum right at the Alto dos Moinhos Metro is truly a gem. With its outstanding collection of European music instruments alongside a few from other music cultures around the world, it’s worth more than a cursory visit. Plus, it’s free with the Lisboa Card.We came just a few minutes after opening time, hence we had the place all to ourselves. I truly relished my time looking at the instruments carefully especially those from 18th-19thc such as the lutes, viols, and keyboards as it was my chance to see real specimens and not just pictures.

A hurdy-gurdy!

This is the piano that Franz Liszt brought with him to France while on concert tour which included Lisbon. After his concert, he gave it away to Queen Maria II.

I loved these small portable organs even if they were 19tjc forgeries of 16thc ones.

A pianoforte developed by Muzio Clementi.

Lutes and more lutes!

A bandurria!

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Alfama

We arrived back in Lisbon at around 9pm. Compared to the really cold weather and showers in Madrid, Lisbon was like a ray of sunshine. We booked a car with driver from http://www.mydaytrip.com for the drive from Seville. Florian, our driver arrived promptly at our hotel before 5pm for the 4 hour drive with a brief stopover at Alfalfa.

It was good to check-in at Hotel Rossio Inn knowing that you’re parking your bags much longer this time and wouldn’t need to wake-up early for another bus ride.

We took the Metro from Rossio to Martin Moiniz which was the boarding station for Tram 28. There was already a line there which meant we were going to have to stand. We got off at Graca and walked to Igrecia Sao Vicente. It’s not as ornate as San Roque but beautiful nevertheless.

We scrounged for some souvenirs at the nearby street market which had unique items for sale apart from the many stalls selling pre-loved items.

Bought a couple of magnets at 1.50€ each and a soft eyeglass case made of cork (8€) for which Portugal is famous for. I never realized how versatilec and beautiful cork could be. I only thought it was good only for boards and wine stoppers.

Beside the market is the massive Panteon Nacional, a multi-domed church that houses remains of some of Portugal’s most illustrious names.

At one of the side rooms called sala are the tombs of Portuguese artists such as famous fado singer, Amalia Rodrigues.

It was a 10-minute downhill walk to the wonderful Museo de Fado. I thoroughly enjoyed this museum as it was very informative and you could listen to fado recordings and even watch a few video clips. It’s not a big museum but it was very well-organized.

The attached shop has several good items for sale including music scores should you want to sing some fado. I was able to score an English-language book on fado and a replica of the Portuguese guitar. Both would come handy when I teach European music in my Global Music course.

We walked uphill again to Miradour Sta. Lucia. There were many steep stairs but it was an enjoyable walk as there were many quaint alleys and streets.

The view from the miradour was fantastic.

We decided to just head to the Lisbon Cathedral on another day as it was drizzling and there were so many people waiting for Tram 28E. We jumped aboard the less crowded Tram 12 which stopped at Praca Figueroa.

Alfama is a lovely neighborhood that makes for a nice day of walking. Especially interesting are the many apartments with small balconies.

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Last Day in Spain

Today, we wrap-up our trip to Seville and take a car back to Lisbon. This morning, we went to Taller Flamenco for Rhoda’s one-hour flamenco lessons which she thoroughly enjoyed. While waiting for her, Tita Cel and got to chatting with two ladies from Germany and France who were waiting for their 10am-1pm class. It seems the Taller is really popular as there was another class going on in another room. After the class, we stopped at a shop called Flamenco y Mas on our way to the Basilica de Macarena. Grabbed some instructional videos on the compas and castanuelos as well as some compact discs and a book on flamenco. On a glass case were some high-quality branded castanuelos which were different from the more commercial ones readily available at the souvenir shops. The pair I bought cost 29€ and was crafted by the workshop of Manuel Velez.

We barely had time to really take in the beautiful interiors of the Basilica de Macarena as it was 11 a.m. already and we had to grab a taxi to the Catedral de Seville.

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he taxi dropped us off at the entrance for groups so we had to walk in the rain to the opposite side. Thankfully, it was a breeze to get inside as there was no line in the queue for those who bought online tickets.

The cathedral, the largest Gothic one in Europe, was jaw-dropping with its vaulted ceilings and wide spaces.

On its sides are many chapels with some containing tombs.

The piece-de-resistance was the tomb containing the bones of Christopher Columbus.

We bought some last minute souvenirs at Artesanal Sevilla by the Plaza de Pilatos. I got a cheaper set of castanuelas (8.99 €) just so I can have another one. According to the box, it’s fabricado en españa rather than Made in China which I saw in sets at other stores.

I really enjoyed Spain and long to be back.

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Postres

Spain is heaven for dessert-lovers like me. There’s a huge variety and they’re always very good. After all, fantastic tapas and tasty main courses need to be polished-off with perfect postres.

We stopped by this small pasteleria along Calle Huertas in Madrid so we can use the toilet. Of course, we had to order something and that was this delicate lemon merengue tart with burnt sugar.

In many places, you’ll see these flaky desserts filled with cream and/or yema. They’re also huge.

The restaurant of the Hotel Palacio del Pilar del Toro where we spent the night in Granada a dessert specialty—- a baklava-like pastry that was served warm. Very very good.

Tocino del Cielo is a thick flan made heavy with loads of egg yolk resulting in a chewy consistency which I absolutely adore.

This one is El Giralda’s in Seville. The bitterness of the burnt sugar was a perfect counterpoint to the flan’s sweetness.

Another tocino del cielo but this time served with ice-cream at Becerrita in Seville. This was really really good.

Much lighter is the Catalan flan. It’s just like our leche flan.

These slices of bread soaking in milk and cinnamon is served everywhere.

Of course, when in Madrid, go get some turrones.

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Eating in Madrid, Granada, and Seville

I have always enjoyed Spanish food with its hearty meals. That being said, one of the goals of this trip to Spain was to taste all the Spanish dishes my sister and I have grown fond of after countless dinners at Señor Alba’s, Señor Terry’s, and Las Paellas, three of Manila’s legitimate Spanish digs.Jamon The beautiful and delicate Spanish ham. I could live off this. My first bite into this delicacy was at breakfast at a cafeteria at the Chamartin Train Station in Madrid after an 11- hour trip from Lisbon. Biting into my bocadillo filled with jamon Iberico, I wondered, if a bocadillo at a train station could be this good, what more if it would be in a proper cafe?Taking a walk at the Puerto del Sol, after dropping our luggages at the hotel, we were delighted with all the jamon shops with tantalizing displays of bocadillos which proved too tempting to resist. Thus, in less than 2 hours, we had our 2nd jamon.Jamon is everywhere and compared to prices at delicatessens back home, are quite cheap. Bought about 180 grams at 2.34€ at a small grocery.It’s often served as a sandwhich (tostada or bocadillo) or as an appetizer.One thing we learned with eating jamon in tostada is they use crusty round breads in which you spread some olive oil and tomato puree. Life changing. Sopa de Ajo This garlic soup was one of my mom’s specialties. Hers was a clear soup loaded with garlic and croutons fried in butter. Our experiences with all the sopa de ajo we had in Spain totally blew our minds away. It was so flavorful and had a delicious homey feel. Nothing could be better than taking a table at the Plaza Mayor and taking spoonfuls of the soup to ward off the cold. Museo de Jamon’s soup had achuete which accounted for the reddish color.More savory was La Turcha’s which was brownish and had morsels of ham. Totally different from what we had been having at home, the sopa de ajo had thick slices of crusty bread much like French onion soup.Callos MadrileñoWhere else to have this than Madrid? I was warned by Rhoda that the original Spanish version was of pure tripe, something I was too fond of. Not if it was melt-in-your-mouth the way it was served to us at El Hylogui. It was perfect with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.GambasAgain at El Hylogui. Large succulent shrimps in olive oil and garlic. According to the restaurant manager, a little brandy is added which explained its slightly sweetish taste. La Dispensa in Seville had smaller shrimps and much more oil. Paella and Arroz A Valencia original, this heart rice dish is truly iconic of Spain. This mixed paella at a restaurant by the Teatro Nacional Madrid had chicken, seafood, and yummy chorizos.At El Giralda in Seville, the menu indicated this oxtail rice dish (22 €) and black rice dish (22 €) as arroz rather than paella. I wonder what makes one different from the other? Both were delicious, though. The black rice was flavored with squid ink and served with aoili.When ordering paella, the prices indicated are per person and restaurants require a minimum of 2 orders (about 16-19 € per person). However, at El Giralda, the two arroz we ordered were single serve.The paellas were served steaming hot and as it cools, it gets even better as the arboreto rice absorbs the sauce. At Mercadero de Barrera in Seville, you can see the paella being cooked.Asador An asador is a restaurant that specializes in roasts. The pollo asador at El Aguador in Granada was the tastiest and most tender roast chicken I’ve every had. The meat just falls off the bones. It’s a really large chicken, too.The cochinillo at Las Despensa in Seville according to Trip Advisor reviews was tops. Originating in Segovia, we wanted to see how Alba’s roast in Manila compares to the one here. The cochinillo was meatier and tastier. Unfortunately, the skin wasn’t crispy. I think it’s because we arrived quite early. The old man running the restaurant hesitated when we ordered it.Aside from the roasts are the grilled meats. The salted Iberian pork shoulder at El Gradual in Granada was perfection personified. The meat was just the right thickness. It was grilled lightly and very juicy. It was salted perfectly.A hearty stew of rabo del toro (oxtail) is perfect for cold weather. Huge chunks that fall off the bone in a tomato-based sauce at La Turcha in Madrid.Fried Food. When in Spain, be sure to order the starters as they’re very good and if you’re ordering a salad, go really well with it. They also help keep your tummy happy as it waits for 20 minutes for the paella to be served.Trust the Spanish chefs to turn an orherwise mundane dish such as fried food into something extra ordinary. Whether fish, seafood, or meat, it’s always perfectly seasoned and battered and fried just at the right temperature to seal in the juices while keeping the meat cooked and tender.A plateful of El Aguador’s delicate fried baby squid.El Giralada’s pan of fried mixed seafood.Fried lamb at La Turcha.Where to EatWe mostly ate at restaurants as we wanted main courses rather than just tapas. These were always well-appointed places with table settings and well-dressed wait staff. That’s why it’s always good to be dressed well all the time. For breakfast (desayuno) we headed to one of the many cafes for some sandwhiches and coffee. Some are self-service (remember to bring your utensils and plates to the counters before you leave) while others have table service. These places were also perfect for Spain’s famous sweets.We ate so well in Spain. The food was of very high quality and the portions were generous. It would be difficult to taste the main courses when dining alone as you won’t be able to finish all of it. Best to stick to the tapas. What to Order We always ordered a salad, meat, and fish. Sometimes, we had starters too.Bread was also always served before meals.There are also free starters.How much? Main courses are about 15€ to 25 € while tapas are 3.5€ to 8 €. The set meal for the day (menu del dia) is abour 10€ to 11€.What time to eat?Breakfast can be early but lunch is 1:30 to about 4pm and dinner at around 8pm-12 md. Some even OEM at 9pm. There are some restaurants with a sign that says “kitchen all day” which means they don’t close. Perfect for people who can’t adjust their eating times. We stuck to the Spanish way which worked for us as it gave us more time to tour.

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Seeing Seville

Morning brought blue skies so we took a taxi to Plaza de España.

This grand open space was constructed for the 1929 Expo and has since been refurbished. Of all Seville’s sights, nothing can beat its grandeur.

It sits like a beautiful queen awaiting her guests.

You can rent a small row boat to navigate the canal.

From the plaza, we crossed the river to Triana to the Mercado de Triana which turned out to be closed except for a few stalls such as this pasteleria with delicious French pastries that beckoned us to sit and have some coffee before exploring the neighborhood.

Seville is known for its ceramics and the workshops in Triana are the best place to buy them. We headed to one at Calle San Jorge just across the tile museum.

So many different stuff. I would have wanted to bring home plates, platters, and cups if I could.

Opposite the tile shop was the Callejon de la Inquisicion where prisoners of the notorius Spanish Inquisition passed through on their way to the Castilo San Jorge to be tortured by the monks. I imagined I was one while walking through it.

The short passageway led to the river. It’s so clean, there are ducks and people paddle boarding.

Being a Sunday, there were many people out on the streets. We headed to the small Capilla de los Marineros with its huge statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

At the side of the chapel is this interesting statue of Christ. You hardly see statues of him post-crucifixion. I wonder what the sculptor had in mind when he created this?

Just a few meters away was the beautiful Iglesia de Sta. Ana with its many Virgin Marys all with different facial features.

At the back of the church is an old altar with a lovely retablo.

One of the two pipe organs.

In Triana are the many tiles on houses and other buildings with the image of the Virgin Mary.

There were also shops selling religious items such as those beautiful appliquè textiles used in the Virgin Mary’s clothes.

We had lunch at the Mercado de Barrera back on the other side of the river. Unlike the mercado in Madrid, this was larger and had more seata and not as crowded. we had some morcilla and Sevillan chicharon together with the black paella.

Next stop was at the Real Maestranza, Seville’s bullfighting ring.

The mandatory guided tour took us throug the small museum with its paintings and prints of bullfighting scenes and famous matadiots.

The more interesting gallery was the one with the matadors’ intricate tight-fitting costumes.

I noticed how small they seemed to be.

This the stalls where the bulls are kept.

There’s also a small chapel.

Finally, we were led out to ring, the largest in Seville.

The seating capacity is 12,000. According to our guide, these can easily get filled-up.

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This is where the bulls pass.

This is the gate where they come out to the ring.

To be able to pass through the Prince’s Gate, a matador must have had 3 wins.

Back to Triana to watch a flamenco show at the CasaLa Teatro. The small theatre only sits 28 but didn’t feel cramped at all.

The dancing was different from the flamenco we watched the previous evening at the Casa de la Guitarra. This had more dancing and also featured castanets. The female singer was superb. Very emotional singing.

We ended the day at La Despensa for some cochinillo.

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Hello Seville!

Our last stop in Spain before heading back to Lisbon in a few days. Another Alsa bus ride but this time on Supra Economy rather than Premium. The difference is that the former doesn’t have an electrical charger, no attendant, and no snacks. Same 1+2 seat configuration, though. It was an easy 3-hour trip through the lovely countryside.

We dropped our luggages at our beautiful hotel, Hostal Atenas at the Barrio Sta. Cruz neighborhood then went in search for some tostada with jamon Iberico.

Back at our hotel, the lovely girl at the reception allowed us to check-in early. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve noticed how the people working at the hotel industry are so overly friendly. Our hotel is very homey with tiled walls and plants and was built in traditional style. It doesn’t have an elevator which wasn’t really much of a problem even if it means lugging our bags 2 floors. At least, we get to work-off our calories from all the good Spanish food we’d been having.

We couldn’t get a taxi to bring us to Plaza de España so we decided to walk in the rain to the Catedral de Seville hoping there would be lots of taxis there. None. It was past 3pm already and our entrance time to the Real Alcazar was at 4pm so we headed there instead which, thanks to Google Maps, turned out to be just one minute walk away. The line for those who have bookings was a bit long but it took us less than 20 minutes to get past security and walk into the complex. The rain had stopped by then lending a fresh sheen on the palace grounds.

The buildings are beautiful with their ornate carvings and colorful tiles.

Very reminiscent of the Alhambra. Just like the other sites we’ve been to previously, it was easy to take nice pictures without anyone crowding your frame.

This painting of the Virgin Mary is so beautiful.

From the palace, we just walked around as there weren’t any taxis.

We have only been in Seville less than day but I already love it from what I have barely seen of this place.

The narrow cobbled streets are lined with beautiful houses with small balconies and grilled windows. There is beautiful architecture everywhere.

Also, there are ornate churches and leafy plazas at almost every turn.

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